The moment we'd been waiting for as the mkIV set arrives at Connolly. Photo—Ed Fahey.
A year's worth of planning finally came to fruition on Saturday 20th August 2022. A confident but cautious Táilte team stood at the end of platform 4 in Connolly with our supplies, when an Iarnród Éireann mkIV carriage set casually slunk across the junction and into the station. Driver Dylan Kinsella at the helm of Control Car No.4003. It was actually happening. No rest for the wicked, however. While David and Niall set to work labeling seats (thrown somewhat out of kilter by an error in the diagram) Alex and Ed began the task of assembling our fresh-out-of-the-factory headboard. After all, what is a railtour without a headboard. 201 class locomotives are quite tricky when it comes to mounting conventional headboards, but this had been factored in, and in no time at all locomotive No.215 "River Avonmore" was proudly wearing the "Táilte Tours" headboard—the first locomotive to do so. A quick test to make sure it would also fit the Control Car—it did. Presentation-wise we were ready to rock.
Driver Dylan Kinsella was working his first railtour (in the driving seat that is!). Photo—Seán Clancy.
The Irish rail enthusiast community assembles
Some of our sponsors from the Irish Model Railway world pose with our steed. Left to Right: Patrick Conboy (Irish Railway Models), Steve Nicholls (Irish Railway Models), Tony Mirolo (Model Railway Society of Ireland), Ed Fahey (Model Railway Society of Ireland) and Fran Burke (Irish Railway Models).
While all of this was going on, crowds had gathered and seats were taken. There was ample time for photographs, including some of our sponsors including the good folks at the Model Railway Society of Ireland and the team from Irish Railway Models. Representatives were also on hand from the Casino Model Railway Malahide. Onboard the carriages, we had stands from our friends at the County Donegal Railway Heritage Centre (who, without question, get the prize for the longest distance traveled) and the Irish Railway Record Society while Clifton Flewitt had set up his famous railway bookstand, an instituion that was always key attraction on the IRRS and ITG railtours of old.
The morning Enterprise arrived on time behind 227, bringing with it our Belfast contingent. This gave our passengers a rare opportunity to photograph a Die Dietrich set alongside a mkIV set; Ireland's two remaining locomotive-worked carriage types rarely rub shoulders. At 09:20, we got the road and away towards Islandbridge Junction we departed—this was our first, 'premier' of the day as this was the first working of a mkIV carriage set with passengers out of Connolly and on the line from there to Islandbridge Junction.
Joining the Cork-mainline proper at Islandbridge, our team set to work distributing First Class gift bags and commencing the ticket check. The sun shone as we sped along the former Great Southern & Western Railway mainline, Ireland's 'Premier Line'. Kildare was our first pickup stop, where a sizeable contingent joined including members of Kildare Wildlife Rescue. Further pickup stops were made at Portarlington and Portlaoise.
On an Irish railtour, delays become opportunities...
Our next stop was Thurles. From here, we were to be diverted over the Up (Dublin-bound) line due to single working as the Down line was undergoing ballast cleaning work. There was a slight delay waiting here however nobody seemed to mind; it worked out well as an extra unscheduled photo stop. As we proceeded into the section, enthusiasts were entertained by the various track machines to be spotted working on the Down line, while the track bashers had the chance to enjoy some rare 'wrong road working'.
A southern crew to the south west
A Cork incursion. Left to right: Driver Tom Loughnane, Stephen Mangan and recently-retired Driver Tom Ryan pose with loco at Millstreet, County Cork.
At Limerick Junction, we regained the Down line and bade goodbye to Driver Dylan Kinsella who handed 215 over to Driver Tom Loughnane of Cork. A further treat for the track bashers was a quick swing through Charleville loop. At Mallow, we picked up another contingent of passengers before heading over the viaduct and swinging right onto the Tralee branch. While mkIV sets have worked the odd GAA or Private Charter to Killarney before, it's still relatively uncommon so this was the start of another rare treat for the enthusiasts onboard. At Millstreet, a photo stop was scheduled, being one of the few stations on the Kerry line where mkIV sets are cleared to stop at (the platform length is sufficient here). Some of our more hardy passengers made a run towards the level crossing to get a shot of 215 and her train in full, while others were happy with the view of 215 from the platform looking on towards the Kerry Mountains. A few minutes passed and we were on our way once more.
The sunny weather gave way a little to the rain here, but not to the point we couldn't enjoy the views of Kerry's spectacular valleys as made our way towards the first of our two railtour destination options, Killarney. A large number of passengers chose to disembark here to explore the delights of the town for a few hours. While we had arrived quite late due to the Permanent Way works mentioned earlier, some smart work by Iarnród Éireann staff reduced this significantly and after the obligatory photos were taken, 215 then propelled us back out to Killarney Check before charging up the bank towards Tralee, with a melodious 'PARP PARP' salute of the horn for the passengers watching from the platform (be sure to check out the video below).
Video of our railtour departing Killarney taken by 9-year old Luke of Transport Videos Ireland, watch AND listen.
Our railtour scores another "Premier" for Irish rail journeys
215 and train at Tralee, currently Europe's most westerly railway station. Photo—Glen Cusack.
We were now on our second 'Premier' of the day, for this was the ever passenger working of a mkIV carriage set west of Killarney towards Tralee. Presently, with our late running virtually canceled out, we arrived at Casement Station, Tralee, now Europe's most westerly railway station. It was now time for passengers and crew to enjoy a well-earned break and a hearty meal, but not before the team took the opportunity to pose for photos celebrating our achievement. Enthusiasts took opportunity the capture not only the first passenger working of the carriages at Ireland's south western terminus, but also the now rare spectacle of a 201 class at Tralee. Since railcars took over services in 2009, these have become rare locos for passenger haulage off the Belfast and Cork mainlines, with even most railtours generally using 071 class locomotives.
Team Táilte poses for the camera at Tralee. Left to right Niall Kelly, Alex Richardson, Ed Fahey, Wesley Molloy, Martin Hoey, Jon Beaumont, David Walsh, and Derek Dunne.
Rajeev of CCSL Catering put in a trojan effort in keeping our passengers fed and watered over the course of the 420-mile return journey.
A (relatively) smooth return journey from Tralee
MkIV Control Car No.4003 ready for departure from Tralee.
The return journey from Tralee was a relatively smooth affair from the railtour end, despite delays to regular services on the branch. We had to stop at Farranfore to cross a late-running service train but quick station work at Killarney saw us make up this time. At Mallow, we bade goodbye to our Corkonian passengers and some of the local IÉ crew, before heading back up the Premier Line towards Dublin. At Limerick Junction, we picked up a Dublin crew for the final leg of the journey. Single-line working was still in force from here to Thurles, giving our enthusiast passengers another chance to spot the various track machines in operation. Happy passengers were set down at Portlaoise, Portarlington, and Kildare, before we swung a left at Islandbridge Junction for the last stage to Dublin Connolly. We arrived slightly down but just in time for passengers to make their bus connections home. Stock was unloaded and a few hung around to record Driver Kevin Murphy take 215 and its mkIV carriages home to their Heuston base, a rare moment itself. Goodbyes were said and a horde of happy passengers and crew retired for much-needed sleep, food and drink (not necessarily in that order). Of course, for some, another day of fun lay ahead. It was a two day railtour weekend after all...
At the end of a long day, Driver Kevin Murphy (also working his first railtour) prepares to bring the set home to Heuston.
An enormous thank you to all who made our first railtour a success
All in all, our first ever railtour proved to be a bigger success than we could possibly have hoped for, with approximately 228 passengers carried. The co-operation from the staff at all levels in Iarnród Éireann was beyond that what we could have expected. Special thanks also to Cathal and Rajeev at CCSL catering, who delivered a top-notch service. Rajeev managed to serve our 200+ passengers on our four hours each-way trip single-handed (a bit longer than his normal two-hour each-way trips on the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise train).
We couldn't have achieved this without our sponsors; thank you to Irish Railway Models, the Model Railway Society of Ireland, Casino Model Railway Malahide, the Great Southern Killarney, Siamsa Tíre, Abbey Hotel Donegal, and Mainline & Maritime.
In addition, we would like to thank Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus, Murphy Models, and Whitehead Railway Museum for donating additional raffle prizes.
Thanks are also due to the various preservation and modeling societies who helped spread the word in the months leading up to the tour; these include: the Irish Railway Record Society, the Irish Traction Group, the Model Railway Society of Ireland, the Modern Railway Society of Ireland, the Branchline Society (who also kindly drew us a map for the brochure), South Dublin Model Railway Club, Wexford Model Railway Club, Ulster Model Railway Club, North Down Model Railway Club, Downpatrick & County Down Railway, Stradbally Woodland Railway, Cavan & Leitrim Railway, and Donegal Railway Heritage Centre. Big thanks also to Marks Models who allowed us to display our posters in their shop at Hawkins Street. The highlight for many of us was the amount of cross-cooperation from the wider Irish railway enthusiast/modeling/preservation communities. It was heartwarming and something we'd love to see more of in the future. As one of our colleagues in the RPSI said on the day "we're all in this together". Indeed. Isn't bringing people together what trains do?
Of course, the railtour simply could not have happened without the patronage of the 228 passengers who chose to travel with us on the day. The support was very much appreciated. And last, but not least, our wonderful team of stewards who worked tirelessly throughout the day. Now, what will we do for the next one...
Some facts and tidbits from the day:
The round-trip from Dublin Connolly to Tralee was just over 420 miles
This was the first passenger working of a mkIV carriage set not only out of Connolly but over the line from there to Islandbridge Junction AND that from Killarney to Mallow.
Locomotive No.215 "River Avonmore" was a last-minute swap for locomotive No.229 "River Feale", which was failed before the ECS from Heuston.
228 Passengers travelled.
This was the first railtour to use Iarnród Éireann mkIV coaching stock, following a long tradition of Cravens, mkIId, and mkIII rolling stock having been used in the past.
This was the first passenger working of a 201 class locomotive to Tralee since 2009.